Have you ever wondered why Ireland is known as The Emerald Isle? On the eastern flank, it’s no mystery. Almost as if the earth has soaked up the long and lavish history, it’s been said that the landscape here was painted with a brighter, bolder brush of colour. Officially, history in this corner of the world stretches back as far as 5000 years – when Ireland was first settled – but we now know there are more layers to this lush green land than first thought.
Ireland’s Ancient East is made up 15 counties, so you’re never short of things to see and do. A scratch just beneath the surface of this place will reveal why the locals stay and visitors return. Lift up a rock and stories will spill out, look to the clouds and Gods will reveal themselves. Bring your inquisitive nature, a thirst for adventure, and this Emerald will reveal both its beauty and its secrets. Now, let’s write the next chapter. Shall we?
Older Than Egypt
Perhaps the finest example of Ireland’s rich history, one that puts everything into perspective for those outside the loop, is Brú na Bóinne. Translated as ‘Palace of the Boyne’, this site was erected sometime around 3200BC in County Meath and is mostly comprised of three tombs known as Knowth, Newgrange and Dowth. What many don’t know is that, at an amazing 5,200 years old, these outstanding prehistoric monuments are actually around 1000 years more ancient than the oldest known Egyptian pyramid.
Whatever the beliefs of the prehistoric people who created this extraordinary assembly of ritual structures, they expressed them with great thought and on a huge scale. The area, now a world heritage site, displays breathtaking examples of early engineering and weaves architecture, artistry and astronomy into a series of fascinating monuments across the Boyne river valley. In fact, it’s the largest assemblage of megalithic art in Western Europe. You really do have to see it.
Sand Dunes and Saltee Air
In the south-east, a little further than a stone’s throw from Dublin lies County Wicklow. For thousands of years, people have been drawn here for the promise of spectacular scenery and abundant wildlife. The county has never failed to deliver and is regarded by many as the most beautiful corner of Ireland’s great green land. Why? Visit the ‘valley of the two lakes’. Some say there’s a stillness there that, after you’ve soaked up the atmosphere for a while, you can take with you wherever you go.
You’ll also find the stunning white sands of Brittas Bay in Co. Wicklow, a 5km stretch of beach awarded the International Blue Flag award this year, cementing it as one of the best in the world. As you move south towards County Wexford, you’ll eventually reach Kilmore Quay, from where a short boat ride will see you discover the Saltee Islands. As if they weren’t part of Ireland at all, seals, puffins and a surprising array of other seabirds make their nests here – on these on these small pockets of land scattered around the coast. But the wildlife isn’t the only surprising thing here. The Saltee Islands have a rich history of their own, one you can trace back 5000 years from medieval monks to monolithic men just by looking around. Ready for an adventure?
Once Upon a Time…
For all there is in the beautiful land of Ireland, stories may be the Emerald Isle’s greatest gift, and the ancient east is full of them. Those in the mood for whispers, tales and legends shouldn’t have to look far. Ireland is full of heroes and icons from St. Patrick to Ériu and every local has something to tell, whether it be about giants, fairies or warriors that once walked the lands. One story tells of how in 1989 a leprechaun suit, bones and gold coins were found on Carlingford Mountain, County Louth.
No one was more sceptical than Kevin Woods. Known locally as ‘McCoillte’, he organised a leprechaun hunt that year to try and catch one.In 2002, Mr Woods found the gold coins in a stone wall on Ghan Road that enabled him to communicate with “Carraig”, the elder of the 236 surviving leprechauns. By 2009 they were afforded protection by the E.U. under the European Habitats Directive. In 2010, Kevin Woods became “The Leprechaun Whisperer” and published his first book, “The Last Leprechauns of Ireland”. Not convinced? Come exploring, County Louth awaits you.
Kings, Queens and Cashels
In County Tipperary is a town called Cashel, a pretty and unassuming place surrounded by lush green glens, thick woodland and the snow-capped mountains of Galtee. Just like any other town, it doesn’t appear particularly special at first, but a 10-minute walk north will soon show you otherwise. When you stroll out of town towards the fertile plains of the Golden Vale, your view begins to open up. And as you look towards the distance, tracing the landscape up a steady incline, you suddenly spot it.
The Rock of Cashel, with its round towers and intimidating spires reaching up to the heavens. A magnificent castle-cum-chapel that demands respect and inspires greatness – no home for a mere king. After all, this is a place closely knitted to Ireland’s most important figures, St. Patrick and Brian Boru, the only royal to ever unite the whole of Ireland under one ruler. Like something straight out of a movie or fairy tale, the Rock of Cashel has to be seen to be believed. Just wait until you look inside.
Dublin: Surprising By Nature
Dublin, Ireland’s capital and the beating heart of a land as old as time. This city has long been associated with hustle, bustle and busy bodies – as any city would be. People are drawn here from miles away, from different continents even, to dip into the nightlife and its offerings. But Dublin isn’t all bright lights, bars and booze. The surrounding countryside is some of the most stunning on display, and the journey from Kiltipper to Glencullen serves as proof. At 32km long, this trail may be one to make a day of.
The trek will see you trace ancient footsteps over misty bogs, through thick forest and up the mighty Dublin Mountains. Your reward? A magnificent view of everything Ireland has to offer, from the coast to the city and the countryside beyond. When you arrive at your final destination in Glencullen, a visit to Johnnie Fox’s pub is custom. Strip off those extra layers, grab a pint and treat yourself to their famous seafood while you soak up the sounds of traditional Irish music. If you’re planning a visit, make sure you get a real taste of the capital.
If you’re feeling inspired or already packing your bags, it’s worth noting that this is only a mere glimpse of everything on offer in Ireland’s Ancient East. Use our short break planner to discover even more and book yourself a trip to remember today.